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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

East of Eden XXIX -- chpt28: LOVE. PERIOD. (not that kind of love)

I am always deconstructing authors' goals and intentions as I read.  What makes them tick, and how are they trying to accomplish exactly what they're trying to accomplish, and why did they do this that way or this way or how, and--in the case of Steinbeck and others whose work I'm always burrowing through and panning--why is it assembled as it is?  I mentioned quite some time ago the impression I get that this book was not planned out beyond a potential list of characters, general plot motivation, and a setting.  One of the reasons I feel this way is my inability (nearly always absent from a reading) of why a chapter was put together in such-and-such a way.  So many of these chapters with their mini-chapters stump me.  And perhaps this is one of the reasons Grapes of Wrath won all the awards and this is merely everyone else's favorite.  Yes, it is less polished, but I don't think it suffers from the lack of sheen; rather, I think its rustic quality enhances it.  But I look at chapter 28 specifically, and I can't figure out the assembly of these three parts--the thematic line drawn through them.  Shouldn't there be?  Such thematic drawstrings bind up all his paragraphs, bind up his sub-chapters, bind up the book as a whole.  Why not his chapters?  Or am I missing something--looking tooo hard?  I hate to say it, because it just seems to darn easy, but could it really be something as simple as time?  I don't want it to be; I want there to be more.  Why isn't it enough?

And yet, reading it again for the sake of writing these questions--and as I come up with a title for this entry--what about love?  Do we not see three distinct, and perhaps more fully demonstrated than the typical examinations, forms or manifestations of love?  Fatherly, communal, fraternal?  Perhaps this is the most Christian of chapters in the book, which book is profoundly Christian.  (And I hope I'm not overstepping myself by saying it.  Maybe "Christian" is a pigeonhole of the broader topic--just what I'm titling this entry....)

Reading Questions
Chapter 28.1

  1. Hail the valient and hopelessly flawed father!  Every father is, and especially those who won't admit it or are totally oblivious to their ineptitude.
  2. What about Cal's search for anthills?  I picture myself driving home in the fall back in my high school days and seeing mountains of leaves piled up along the side of the street.  Impulsively I swerve the car and splash up a great rooster tail and make it home a little more invigorated than I would have had I been just that much more conservative.  Then I hear on the news (later that very season in fact) about homeowners planting bricks, rocks, or cinder blocks under their leaves to get even with the careless drivers wrecking the fruits of their labors.  Needless to say, I don't go barelling through piles of leaves anymore.  But does Cal think ahead at all, and mean further than, "Hey, let's wreck something and if I kick it this way I know I'll really wreck it," or is his wrecking of anthills heedless and impulsive?

Chapter 28.2

  1. Lee's story.  Who needs the telling of it more, Lee or Adam?  (Trick question.  The answer is neither.  Read my mind!  What am I talking about?) 
  2. I will say no more; this story--and maybe I am satisfactorily like Samuel in this regard--is sacred and doesn't need my defense or pathetic disections, so I will leave it to you.  Regarding Samuel, consider Lee's words after Adam asks if he ever told the great man: "No.  I didn't.  I wish I had.  He loved a celebration of the human soul.  Such things were like a personal triumph to him."  What triumph's of the human soul have you recently witnessed and/or celebrated?

Chapter 28.3

  1. Why is the re-newed impulse to write Charles suddenly strong enough--or Adam finally subjectible enough--to actually bring about a letter?  (And I love how obviously self-conscious the writing is, which writing doesn't even feel forced by Steinbeck.  That's talent, my friends.  Talent!  (Don't believe me?  Try it!))
  2. Adam's PS is apropos.  Up to that point in the letter, ask yourself, why does Adam so love Charles?  A love that is clear--now, if it wasn't over the past ten years.  The answer is simple: "...because you were my brother." 


  1. 28.2.1. Hmm, trick question, eh? I think the story is more for the reader than anyone else. It humanizes Lee in a way that he hasn't been before. Earlier it seemed like he just popped out of the ground. Now he comes alive to us.

  2. I don't know if I entirely agree with you. I think Lee was a more than adequately layered character before this story was shown. As far as where he came from, Adam needed a servant and he hired Lee. I don't think that more than that is necessary, and I think he was plenty alive before this chapter. I think the justification for this chapter (which, really, doesn't need any justification; it stands brilliantly on its own merit) is a motivation or emptiness or benefit to/in/for one of them. How does a story like this benefit the teller, the listener? How might both of these men in this moment needed this story's presentation.

  3. I don't know. To me this story makes Lee seem like a deeper character. How much do we actually know of his interests/back-story before this? Not a lot.

    I will have to think about your question at the bottom of your response a bit and get back to you later.

  4. Yes, it makes him a deeper character, but is this a depth that is required by the story, or is it an indulgence (albeit one of my very favorites)?

  5. Arg, I give up. I guess it's an indulgence, but it's no more an indulgence than telling us the color of the hair of a character. The more we know about a character or his/her background, the more the character comes to life for us. Now, Lee, as you mentioned, is by no means a 2-dimensional character before this, but I think it helps make him even more interesting. I really can't think of the answer to the question of which one of them needs Lee to tell the story. I'm sure they do NEED it, but I can't figure out why. Arg.

  6. Oh, Arg Smarg. You're right. When it comes down to, how much of any book or characterization do you need? I think the difference between over-writing and under-writing is good judgment. I remember teaching detail to seventh graders once in terms of salt and pepper. I had a music professor teach me improv and composition in terms of frosting and sprinkles. Salt and pepper, frosting and sprinkles are good and can make what you're eating great instead of just good (and in the case of salt, you've gotta have some or it's just terrible), but if you can't taste the food anymore, the seasoning and decorations are superfluous.

  7. Exactly. The lack of judgment is what plagues Grady Tripp in "Wonder Boys." I also think it is what keeps people from loving "Moby Dick," as much as I do. Reading is a time investment, and people would rather read about plot than insignificant character details, or, in Melville's case, 19th century whaling technique. I don't think Steinbeck crosses the line, but he comes close at times. His saving grace is that he tells the anecdotes so well that you are willing to suspend the advancement of the plot.

  8. When I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I wondered specifically about the frosting and sprinkles surplus repeatedly. The time period--its particular reading culture--justifies, I think. There are two issues at play: first, while I don't know if this is the case for Hunchback, I know there were a lot of novels that began their publication runs as serializations; second, reading was a primary source of entertainment, not one among dozens like plague us. While I think people are people and they don't change, technology limited the venues for distraction.

  9. Yeah, that's true. On serialization, one of the books I read this summer, "The Three Musketeers" was serialized. It definitely has an effect in what the author tells you and even what happens in the plot.

  10. I've thought about trying to serialize a novel via one of the blogs. I don't know though. I'm wondering if it would be better to plan it out, or just let it grow on its own after a concept and conflict.... The problem of letting it go all on its own is painting myself into a corner.

  11. Back to the question of why both men really need Lee's story right now. I can't say that I have a definite answer; I'm just confident that they both do need it. Looking into it, the essence of Lee's story is stated and agreed upon by both to triumph of the human spirit. It is s fantastic example of it, both on the part of the little family, but also on the uncommon second chance for the men of the village after the fact. Choices are made (and CHOICES, of course, is one of if not the major theme of the book), and Lee is raised. But what has he done in his life that is a true triumph? MAYBE WE NEED TO DEFINE WHAT "TRIUMPH OF THE HUMAN SOUL" EVEN IS. What has Adam done? I think he has a small triumph (compared to Lee's progenitors) in triumphing over Cathy, and Lee, of course, has taken care of a family. Are there bigger possibilities? What about something like mid-life crisis? It's a cliche excuse for lack of glory in an individual, but I think it's valid. Maybe this story is an opportunity for Adam at least to get a good kick in the butt. Maybe this could be--if used--motivation for Lee to really finally go for the bookstore. Notice that right after this chapter is that of the car with its attendent metaphor.

    I'm rambling. Thoughts?

  12. Hmm... that's definitely possible. I definitely agree that they need it, but I don't even have an hypothesis why. I think your answer is better than anything I could think of.


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